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Hot, Ready And Active: An Exclusive Interview With RICK VENTURA Of RIOT ACT

By Andrew Depedro, Ottawa Corespondent
Monday, April 18, 2022 @ 11:24 AM


"We picked songs that we knew the fans liked, and that we liked to play, and we just recorded them, and it was as simple as that."

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Since arriving on the hard rock scene some 45 years ago with their debut album Rock City, NYC’s own RIOT clinched their modest reputation as one of the USA’s most hard-working and influential bands. And while their straightforward hard rock sound never entirely translated into big record sales, they still maintained a tenacious cult following even after with the passing of some of their best-known members, including founder/guitarist Mark Reale in 2012 and, most recently, lead guitarist Lou Kouvaris in 2020. Luckily, guitarist Rick Ventura, who played on most of the band’s early output and familiar with the band being a tough act to follow throughout its halcyon touring days, went and got a lot of the core band back together – including Kouvaris – and the end result would be the launch of their new band known as RIOT ACT as they light the torch with their debut album Closer To The Flame. Yours truly was able to fire up a phone conversation with Rick Ventura himself as we chat about the band’s new lineup, its ever-changing frontman lineup, putting to rest a bugging rumor about a chance meeting with uber-fan Lars Ulrich, the proper pronunciation of Don Chaffin and Bobby Jarzombek’s last names, being mistaken for QUIET RIOT – and, yes, that bizarre mascot that adorns its album covers. Seal the deal and let’s boogie for a while!

KNAC.COM: Hey, Rick! How’re you doin’?

VENTURA: I’m doing great! How are you doin’?

KNAC.COM: So, what have you been up to as of late, just to start off?

VENTURA: What I’ve been up to? We’re busy in the studio doing a new video at the moment. We just released the second video a few weeks ago and we’re working on the third. That should be released on the first week in April to coincide with the release of the album.

KNAC.COM: Awesome. Yeah, I was just checking out the first music video from the album. The song called “Wanted”.

VENTURA: “Wanted”. Yeah. Did you like it?

KNAC.COM: I loved it. Where was that video actually shot? It looked like it was somewhere in Europe.

VENTURA: It does, does it? Actually, no. It was done in New Jersey! *laughs*

KNAC.COM: *laughs* Okay. It does look very very old school, like in 14th century Europe.

VENTURA: Yeah, it’s an old factory there.

KNAC.COM: That would explain the overall rusticness of it.

VENTURA: Yes. We set that ourselves. *laughs*

KNAC.COM: *laughs* Well, it’s definitely rustic for sure. So, just wanted to congratulate you, first of all, both you and RIOT ACTCloser To The Flame which, as I understand, is not only a studio album of new original music from the band under the RIOT ACT banner but also features some re-recordings of 12 classic RIOT songs from the band’s first three albums, Rock City, Narita and Fire Down Under. For those who aren’t entirely familiar with RIOT’s full history, and particularly when you yourself came to be in the lineup, would you be fine with filling in that part of the band’s history?

VENTURA: When I first got into RIOT?

KNAC.COM: Yep

VENTURA: Okay….well, it was almost quite a long time ago, but I came in on the second album, Narita. It came about when Lou Kouvaris, who was in RIOT from the beginning. He was on the first album, and by the second album, which they were starting to record, he was no longer in the band and I was really a fixture around the whole RIOT camp from the very early days. I was friends with Mark (Reale)….the guys were rehearsing around the clock. Mark lived around the corner from me, so I was the logical choice because I’d followed the band, I was friends with them, and when it came time for them to get a guitar player, they looked around and said “hey, he knows how to play. Let’s get Rick!” and it just fell right into place. It just happened.

KNAC.COM: If I recall as well, while you were in the band during a period of RIOT’s chapter in the mid to late 80’s, and I think it was a lesser-known secret, but the band members overall had fallen on hard times, particularly founder Mark Reale, who, at one point I believe, he’d been working as a bug exterminator in upstate New York at one point, and legend has it, apparently he at a house call and he was recognized by none other than Lars Ulrich of METALLICA, because, apparently they were recording an album at the time nearby. What was the story behind that seemingly chance meeting if you recall?

VENTURA: It was actually Guy (Speranza), that had left the band just after Fire Down Under, really at the peak of when the band was about to break. So that was a very dark period for us. He’d left and just went for a different life. I think it was just years of frustration of the band not getting the accolades, I guess, that after all of those years of hard work, management issues….he was just frustrated. But he left and somehow, he was working in New York and it turns out that somebody recognized him and…I think they called Lars and Lars was talking with him. Lars was quite a fan! *laughs* So, it’s just a bizarre story. That’s pretty much what had happened. Very strange. Very strange. Guy had just had it with the music business, really.

KNAC.COM: I think that at the time RIOT had kinda peaked, but like you said, a lot of the pressure from the record industry, and I think that by then, around ’83 or so, that had just gotten done from their recording and promotion for Restless Breed, but, from what I understood, there was also a bit of a shake-up at Elektra Records and by then Rhett Forrester had come into the picture, and, unfortunately, his erratic behavior kinda curtailed a lot of the success of the band from what I understand.

VENTURA: Yeah, he had some issues. There were so many issues there. Elektra, Rhett…I wouldn’t blame it all on Rhett, but it was a combination of the record company, management….everything just started to deteriorate and we were no longer on Elektra when Born In America came out. And that was when he was just like, it was just going downhill now, and I was gone and I think the band continued maybe another year or two and everybody else had just left and that was the end of that era.

KNAC.COM: Okay. So, getting back to the release of Closer To The Flame, was it hard to really come up with the quintessential early RIOT playlist for that segment of the album, given that you had three full-length studio albums to choose from?

VENTURA: Lou and I, when we first started RIOT ACT, we just did the songs that we liked, essentially, and we just went through each album and said “hey, I like playing this, and I like playing this”. It was simple as that, really. We picked songs that we knew the fans liked, and that we liked to play, and we just recorded them, and it was as simple as that.

KNAC.COM: I will have to say that generally, to be honest with you, that I’m usually skeptical whenever a band decides to re-record their catalogue, especially when their best-known albums are involved…

VENTURA: Oh, I know. The record company had asked us to do it and we originally did six, and I was very skeptical. I said “you really shouldn’t touch the past, it’s already been documented, it’s just a part of history”. But I think it’s kinda refreshing. It sounds really quality, the recording is up to date and just a refreshing….giving a taste to your fans with the updated recording, so it’s cool for that reason.

KNAC.COM: I do agree, because singer Don Chaffin really does actually-am I pronouncing it right? *pronounces the name* Chah-fin?

VENTURA: *corrects pronunciation* It’s Chay-fin, actually.

KNAC.COM: Chay-fin! *laughs*

VENTURA: *laughs* Even I can’t pronounce it sometimes.

KNAC.COM: *laughs* You should hear me half the time whenever I’m trying to pronounce Bobby Jarzombek’s name, and even then I’m wrong!

VENTURA: Oh, right! *laughs*

KNAC.COM: *laughs* ‘Cause when I was interviewing Sebastian Bach about a few years ago, he was his drummer and even he (Bach) said that it was kinda difficult to even try and pronounce Bobby Jarzombek’s name. I think that just right now I finally got his name right. *laughs* Sorry! I think I kinda went off the path here. But I notice that sometimes when bands do a complete re-recording of their catalogue they usually have some valid reasons as to why they do, like the production at the time wasn’t all that standard-sounding, and, sometimes in some cases, there are some contractual obligations.

VENTURA: Right.

KNAC.COM: But overall, I would say that RIOT ACT and particularly Don had done a very impressive job on it. Don’sgot this really sultry type of hybrid Southern vibe to his singing and it really just brings the songs to a whole new level.

VENTURA: Thanks. I mean, when we were recording it, I was getting chills just listening to him sing the songs because they just came to life and…y’know, he did the songs justice. I mean, I think we would’ve just scrapped the whole thing, but it was just like….I was sitting in the control room and watching him and he asked me since I was there, “How am I doing?” and I was going “Don, you’re just killing it!” *laughs* It was really cool to do that and I think it turned out great. Like you said, you know the record company saying that. They’d right away heard that when we first started, Lou and I were playing some originals with the guys in RIOT and they figured “hey, I wanna hear these guys” so we had to do this EP and just let them know that we’re still sounding good, basically. And then, after that, the originals just came together and we just focused on that.

KNAC.COM: A lot of the re-recordings actually had a vibe of both the 70’s and 80’s era of RIOT, but also, I’d heard a lot of distinctive sounds of newer bands, like, say RIVAL SONS and DIRTY HONEY and I guess to a lesser extent, the BLACK CROWES and TESLA. But I found that you really came together and comprised a very classic rock sound.

VENTURA: Cool

KNAC.COM: If you don’t mind my asking, how did you end up finding the newer members of RIOT ACT for this lineup?

VENTURA: Lou was approaching me to get together and do something with him and that was a few years back when RIOT was inducted into the Heavy Metal Hall Of Fame, so we flew out to California and there was this whole big ceremony and then the following year…before we went back, after that ceremony, Lou asked again “hey Rick, call me if you wanna do this. Call me.” So I called him and y’know, we weren’t looking for this. It just came about. It sorta just happened. Like, we’d always hear stories about RIOT, the bands that were influenced by us, and how we were such a great band that had never made it, we had killer albums like Fire Down Under, and it just never went away. And then, during that ceremony, I said to Lou “y’know, the time’s probably right for us to get together and do something”. So then, the following year, we were invited back to play, so we actually performed twice. But how the band members came together, when Lou and I first got together, he said “well, we need a band”. *laughs* And at that time, I was playing with Claudio and Paul, the drummer and bass player in RIOT ACT. I used to jam with them all the time and I said “hey, y’know, let’s try these guys. They’re really good”. We got together, and we played tunes and they sounded really good.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, it did.

VENTURA: Instant band, y’know? *laughs* So, it just worked out and everybody got along really well. But the problem was, who are we gonna get to sing? That had always been the problem. Everything that I write, I can never really find anyone to execute it. Then, a mutual friend of Lou’s actually turned us on to Don and we sent to him three RIOT tunes and he went into a studio and as soon as he opened his mouth, we just went “oh, wow, this is IT!” *laughs* Yeah…he just really put some life into the songs. We just got so fired up and it was just like it was meant to be. Just freaky, y’know, one of those things, a bunch of guys in a room and it’s the right combination. It was actually hard to believe that this was actually happening. So that’s how we came together.

KNAC.COM: One thing that I noticed as well from the clips that I saw on YouTube was that following your inauguration into the Heavy Metal Hall Of History was that Eddie Trunk had emceed you guys.

VENTURA: That’s right. Yeah.

KNAC.COM: I was just watching that clip earlier and the one thing I’d noticed is that Paul Ranieri was at one point, because of his bass-playing skills, I almost thought that it was Billy Sheehan in the lineup.

VENTURA: Ah.

KNAC.COM: It was some type of jam session and then it was like “wait, this isn’t Billy Sheehan, it’s Paul Ranieri!” I don’t really know that much about the guy but he had a very particularly smooth way of playing. It was pretty interesting. It didn’t really remind me all that much about Billy Sheehan’s work with TALAS and MR. BIG. I’m guessing that he’s got some sort of jazz or funk background? Because his playing really does compliment a lot of your sound on this album.

VENTURA: Yeah. It’s a very diverse style. He’s a fretless player, first of all. And when we first played together, it was just interesting, it was just different sounds. And I think that’s what makes this band a bit interesting. So, his playing is just so over the top. Off the charts, really. *laughs* You just watch him and he’s just a phenomenal player. So we’re very lucky to have him. But when people go to see him, they’re like “wow! Check him out!” *laughs* So it’s kinda cool to have someone like that in the band and it just gives us a unique sound.

KNAC.COM: My knowledge of RIOT is a bit spotty even though I’ve been kinda following you guys for 20-odd years, but I noticed that RIOT actually have a distinct type of sound. First, when you were starting out, you were kinda seen as the precursor to the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal at the time just as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal came out.

VENTURA: We were at that time.

KNAC.COM: And in some ways, you guys have managed to encompass quite a lot of different styles altogether. Like, in some cases, with Guy Speranza at one point, you were pretty much full-on straight-ahead rock, and then when Rhett Forrester appeared, he kinda gave the band more of a Southern vibe. Have you always been inspired by different facets and different sounds of music? I know that it seems like a bit of a redundant question because, obviously, you are.

VENTURA: Oh, yeah. You really hit it on the head with that, because Rhett was a totally different style. He definitely had a bluesy style type of vibe to him and I really liked it because I think he could relate to the songs that I wrote a little bit easier than Guy. But Guy was such a unique vocalist. That was the RIOT sound, being Guy’s vocals. We all have so many different influences – I mean, I listen to everything, from heavy stuff to….it’s all over the place, so a lot of different influences. Y’know, Restless Breed does show a little different side of the band due to the vocalists because you’re really writing for your vocalist. And that’s what came out during that period. So, it has a heavy side to it but it has another dimension to it with Rhett. And I think with Don, it’s gonna go even….I think we’re going to be experimenting quite a bit.

KNAC.COM: For sure. Don’s got a bit of that type of swagger too. I’m not too sure if he’s got one of those types of Southern style – like, say, SKYNYRD or MOLLY HATCHET or BLACKFOOT type of singers – and I don’t know if those are his influences, but he’s definitely got that particular type of groove to RIOT ACT’s music.

VENTURA: Yeah…he’s really a find.

KNAC.COM: So, you had officially become RIOT ACT following the inauguration into the Heavy Metal Hall Of History in 2020. Have there been any plans at the moment, despite the break from Covid, to take RIOT ACT out on the road?

VENTURA: Yeah, we’re actually heading to England in August – at the end of August. We’ll be in England doing some dates with LILLIAN AXE at the end of August, beginning of September. And then we’ll be going to Spain for more dates. So, things have started to open because in the past year or two, it’s just been a very dark period; if there was a tour, it would be shut down. So, there were some things happening, but they never came to light due to the situation in Europe, and we went through a rough period here in the States. We didn’t play for a while after Lou passed away. We weren’t even sure that we were gonna continue as a band in 2020, so we focused on writing the original and new material and we all wanted to play the new material, we put together the new album and that’s what we did during that whole period. And now, things are looking up, there are dates on the horizon and there’s even more dates coming in the States from what I understand. We’re working on dates, hopefully in October, so, we’re excited about that and the album gets released on April 15 in the States, so we’re really excited about it.

KNAC.COM: I know that the Closer To The Flame album gets released in Europe on April 1, so thankfully that gives me a bit of a brief period to do both the interview and, hopefully, if time allows for it, the album review itself.

VENTURA: Very cool.

KNAC.COM: So, I have a few other questions, assuming we still have time to do so. Some of the basic ones would be about the famous seal mascot. How did that every come about?

VENTURA: *laughs*

KNAC.COM: I had to ask that because it’s become a staple of RIOT’s albums and such, and people don’t really know how to make heads or tails out of what this seal armed with a machine gun is supposed to represent for the most part. *laughs*

VENTURA: Yeah….it’s pretty bizarre. I’m still trying to figure it out. *laughs*. But, at that time, the mascot thing got its start with IRON MAIDEN – Eddie, maybe? – so, maybe it came about just to have an American version for us. *laughs* The managers came up with that and called it the Mighty Tior, which is obviously RIOT. *laughs* There was a protest about battered seals that was going on in that period of time, and it was related to that when it became what it was, the symbol of RIOT. It’s unusual; people will look at it and go “what the hell?” *laughs* But, I was told that somebody had seen that album and they had to buy it for that reason. *laughs* So, I guess it was good marketing.

KNAC.COM: Probably had people think twice about the seal hunt. It’s almost like, should we really be listening to folks like Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson at this point about clubbing seals? *laughs*

VENTURA: *laughs* KNAC.COM: Because RIOT were at least a good 30 years ahead of its time in trying to curb that particular type of hunting practice. *laughs*

VENTURA: Yeah, right. Right. *laughs* We predated PETA! Oh, boy!

KNAC.COM: I remember because that has always been a bit vocal outrage. For example, a completely different form of music here, but I remember MorrisseySMITHS, had refused to ever actually play in Canada – that’s where I’m speaking from by the way – and he’d have a boycott of Canada for years on end because of the whole seal hunting thing.

VENTURA: Wow

KNAC.COM: That just came to mind right now. *laughs*

VENTURA: That’s funny, yeah. Y’know, people stand up for what they believe in and take it to extremes.

KNAC.COM: Getting back to RIOT ACT’s future plans, there’s going to be more albums on the horizon and I imagine the US tour which is supposed to be coming in October.

VENTURA: Hopefully

KNAC.COM: And hopefully some Canadian dates too.

VENTURA: Yeah, I’d love to play there. Sure.

KNAC.COM: I don’t think you were all that well-known in Canada unfortunately. I guess though not entirely your fault, but also because maybe there wasn’t much of a high demand. I noticed that you’re popular in Spain for some reason.

VENTURA: We did play a bunch of US and Canada dates in RIOT. In fact, the first record was on Attic.

KNAC.COM: Yes! I do remember that.

VENTURA: Yeah, it’s been a long time.

KNAC.COM: If I recall, Restless Breed at the time also ended up on a Canadian label and I’m trying to remember the name of it – yes, Quality Records. It was an independent Canadian label.

VENTURA: Quality Records. Okay.

KNAC.COM: *double checks notes and makes correction* Actually, that was Born In America that came out on it.

VENTURA: Right

KNAC.COM: But that was still not enough to get you guys not mistaken for because that was when they were getting popular and the name was probably a bit too confusing. Have you ever maybe thought about doing a tour with QUIET RIOT now that they’re more or less back together themselves?

VENTURA: Yeah. That’d be kinda interesting. *laughs* Get every band with the word “riot” in their names for a festival. *laughs* That’d be dangerous.

KNAC.COM: QUIET RIOT, RIOT ACT, and, assuming if they’re ever allowed out of Russia, PUSSY RIOT too, although I think that’s a completely different genre of music altogether.

VENTURA: Yeah. *laughs* Speaking of Canada and Canadian bands, we toured with RUSH for a period of time during the Fire Down Under tour. That was cool for us.

KNAC.COM: Yes!

VENTURA: We’re looking forward to that and we’ll actually be working on new material very soon, so the second album will be coming out next year. So, we’re ready to go full steam ahead.

http://riotactband.com/
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